PART ONE: THE GIG
FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE
Her star has risen with all the precipitous urgency of a volcano with a pressing engagement. That Florence Welch has seemingly gone from insecure waif of the side-stage to colossal high-priestess of the centre-stage owes as much to the tabloid circus surrounding her as her increasingly molten delivery.
However, despite the mainstream’s depressingly predictable attempts to mould her into another Amy Winehouse (rather than tapping her phone, they’re spiking her water supply) Ms Welch retains a focus impervious to intoxication, which is her strength under the spotlights, but also forms part of her shortcomings. For though what we’re witnessing borders on bewitching – Raise It Up, for example, has become some sort of incantation, with jutting arms and robes all aflow – there’s something stylised about this performance that flirts with contrivance.
Having seen Flo in, er, full flow upon her emergence – climbing the tent scaffold in implausibly massive platform heels at Reading; freeform howling at Lovebox – there’s a professionalism here that, while admirable, negates the sort of wild abandon that actually got her here.
Early in, What The Water Gave Me hypnotises but its séance-like mechanics also leave you floundering in séance-like wonder: ‘Is, in fact, anybody there?’
Set against a weird kind of art-deco hotel lobby backdrop, there’s a sense of juxtaposition here that kind of disturbs. When she starts thrashing around – in front of two backing singers who look strikingly similar (twins?) – it’s like a scene from The Shining.
It could be that Flo has been ceaselessly touring the same material over and over in a seemingly remorseless PR assault that has turned FATM’s energy into something slightly static. However, some of the newer material aired tonight – specifically encore Never Let Me Go – show flashes of the spectral goddess Florence Welch could and should be – like a version of a former high-priestess, but even more incendiary: yes, occasionally, she’s like a burning Bush. And when she ignites like that, we’re all like a flock of Moseses (Mosi?) receiving our instruction from on high (yes, those platforms are still in evidence) and seeing a vision of what the future holds.
The Machine may be a little rusty, but Florence has got more than enough of the magic, and love, to see her through.
Prephen Brolan (then)
PART TWO: THE AFTERMATH
Florence And The Machine, Brolan’s Writing Desk
So, I write this review of Florence And The Machine for Record Collector magazine – which is to be every bit the detailed and accurate account you would expect from a trained and critical eye, honed from years of experience in the field of measured deliberation and the darkened realms of cogitation (which sounds like a booth for hire in Amsterdam, but assuredly isn’t).
Absorbing the experience, trusty pen and pad to hand (which is mainly for insurance, and almost certainly for ostentation for lack of a t-shirt saying ‘I Am A Fucking Music Journalist’) the show begins, and so starts the critical scribbles (every venue in the world is pitch black, by the way, and most of what’s actually written looks like hieroglyphics). The eventual report starts to take shape in the portals of a suddenly serious mind, while my companions, oblivious to all this, soak up proceedings with untrained yet enthusiastic synaptic responsiveness.
When my review is written, theirs will be a mere glimpsed experience of what the fully loaded, acutely attuned palette perceives – like they’re seeing some art and going: ‘Yeah, my bed looks like that in the morning!’, while I’m all: ‘Post-cognitive, meta-shambolic anti-creative indictment on the ephemerality of human/sub-meta-humanistic domestic pseudo-rebellious servitude compounded and fractured by Emin’s imperfectly perfect pillow-laced, quilt-like coquettishness. A triumph!’
Anyway, I’m feeling empowered. So empowered I have to cross my legs. The pen, think I (probably), is truly mightier than the sword. Just wait til these people get a load of my perspective. At the moment, they’re watching a puppet show, but I’m gonna show them the strings – and what the puppet master looks like… Or maybe it’s a magic show I’m thinking of? Whatever, there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about tricks and illusions. There’s got to be.
Anyway, this review is gonna make nails rue the day God gave them a head (stigmata purgation?), such will be the force and accuracy of my hitting them square on.
So, job done, it’s time to bring in the readership. And who better than my own gig-going plus-one and, more crucially, girlfriend and most trusted confidante. The one thing I can rely on from such a trusted source is honesty. The other is some lovely love-infused hyperbole. And maybe some after-review backstage action. Um…
Review read, she sits back and pauses, presumably to take in some oxygen after nearly drowning in such depths of perception.
“What gig were you at?” she says, my heart nearly stopping for lack of hyperbole. “That’s not how I remember it.”
First thought: somehow I’ve shown the wrong review; second, I’m with the wrong fiancé. Neither tallies, which leads to the unthinkable third: I was totally fucking wrong.
So, as with so many utterances that issue forth from one who loves me, I’m forced to take a long, hard look at myself – the self, in this case, being this overblown review. And so, after a few mandatory, face-saving protestations – always simmering away in the back of any self-serving writer’s head – a long, hard look leads me into a reassessment of what I’ve written.
If you haven’t already read it, the review in question is on the blog before this. What you’re reading here is the world’s first (or possibly not) meta-review – a review of a review. And the reason I believe it’s necessary is simply because, as a writer and critic, it’s essential to get to the core of what you’re seeing and feeling, rather than revelling in the sound of your own fatuous ramblings. And to show a fiancé how brilliantly fucking humble you can be.
When you read the review – if, indeed, you can be arsed – there’s plenty of clever talk of contrivance/staged professionalism on the part of the protagonist (Florence) and jarring juxtaposition (her Machine) that seemed to occupy my chief objections. And while I stand by these assertions in the main – I have seen better performances in her earlier, less publicised days – what I’d actually missed was the main point of the show: that it was actually GOOD.
This is what was baffling my fiancé upon reading my words – we’d actually had a great time. The gig was phenomenal (she reports it’s one of the best she’s seen), yet all I could concentrate on was the flaws and, more crucially, the context.
Rather than looking at the show from a fresh perspective, I was contrasting this performance against the backdrop of so many other performances I’d seen of Florence And The Machine, and that’s where I believe I – and possibly many journalists before me – completely lost the point. Suddenly I realise I’ve become just the sort of writer I’ve always despised – the CRITIC: that noisome little entity that will point out the essential flaws in your choice of favourite crisp if he thinks he can elevate himself with it (Salt and vinegar? Tish! A veritable tyrant of a crisp – more like the Sultan Vinegar). What I’d missed here was the essence, and surely that is the job – the absolute obligation – of anyone who makes a living being offered free gig tickets whenever he demands.
And maybe that’s the chief problem. For while 99 percent of the crowd that night would have purchased, ebayed, blogged and begged for tickets – and, once procured, would have counted the days in anticipation – mine (and my beloved plus-one, I might add) was a mere email away. The main problem with this, as I see it now, is journalists in this field are far too blasé about what other attendees see as the highlight of their week, month or year. When attending so many shows throughout a calendar year, it’s hardly surprising the flaws become the primary focus – almost as if I’m trying to justify being there in the first place. While all around me are there for no other reason than loving the act in question, and honestly purchasing a ticket (or desperately mortgaging to a dishonest tout), I’m there mainly because I’m working but, more pertinently, because I can be. Just like that.
Of course, nobody wants to read a reviewer who writes like Fearne Cotton speaks – i.e. absolutely everything is BRILL-I-ANT – but what my girlfriend’s critique has told this critic is that, rather than concentrate on what makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about, or what elevates me beyond the actual content I’m writing about, it might serve to actually absorb the experience, feel the atmosphere and the sheer power of what a truly good performance can do, rather than pontificating on niggling subtext or nagging context.
How about writing what I feel? Perhaps that’s what years of writing about such things has blunted – the essential feeling. The most legendary hack of all, Lester Bangs, once postulated that writing about music is like tap-dancing about architecture. If that is so (which it probably is), perhaps the only thing to do is stop tapping and make some cement.
And there you have it: my meta-review. Might start doing more of these (will, in fact; stand by for magazine launch) – maybe that’s the only way to get to the essence of what I’m bollocking on about in my actual reviews. After all, self-criticism is one of the few ways you can truly understand yourself – and possibly the only way a girlfriend will give you some backstage action, if only for the price of admitting she was right all along.
* Stand by for more MetaReviews with a new magazine launch coming this year…